Chicago Writers Association (CWA) board member Samantha Hoffman attended writers’ conferences for years and then decided to launch her own with help from other board members and CWA president Randy Richardson. “I knew I wanted to replicate the best features of each of the ones I’d been to,” she says. “We created the conference because we know how motivating it is to be in the company of other writers.”
Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference, now in its third year, focuses on craft and community as they relate to fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Held at the Warwick Allerton Hotel in downtown Chicago, the two-day event includes workshops, panels, and one-on-one meetings with many of the 20-plus presenters.
The digital program lists activities for those wanting to explore the city before or after the conference. “There’s Millennium Park and Grant Park, there’s Navy Pier, there’s the lakefront path,” Hoffman explains. “And, of course, there’s shopping and restaurants and theater. Chicago has so much to offer everyone.”
What you’ll learn
Historical nonfiction author and Columbia College Chicago professor emeritus Dominic Pacyga will give a talk on the importance of place in storytelling, using Chicago’s neighborhoods to investigate how physical space impacts individuals and their responses to conflict in both fiction and nonfiction. Essayist and short story writer Tim Storm will teach attendees how to incorporate tension on every page of a manuscript and will also participate in a panel titled “What Writers Can Learn from Sports Psychology” with bestselling humor writer Ann Garvin.
Author and teacher Kristin Oakley will talk about the benefits of critiquing, explaining the ways in which critique groups and beta readers can improve a written piece and help the author see it through to completion. Learn about flash fiction and nonfiction with author Patricia Ann McNair, who will discuss mini-memoir, prose poems, short shorts, and palm-of-the-hand pieces. Poet Faisal Mohyuddin will appear on a panel focusing on poetry, along with author and poet Parneshia Jones and poet Tony Trigilio. Creativity coach Brendan Sullivan will give a presentation titled “Creative Techniques to Keep Those Ideas Flowing.”
Jeff Hoover from WGN-TV will team up with Jasmine Cooper from WGN Radio to teach authors how to get free publicity. Attendees will have an opportunity to learn about various small presses and what each publisher is looking for during a panel discussion titled “Meet the Small Presses” featuring Emily Victorson from Allium Press, Jerry Brennan from Tortoise Books, Rick Kaempfer from Eckhartz Press, and John Manos from Amika Press.
Jacquelyn Mitchard, award-winning journalist and author of The Deep End of the Ocean, is one of two keynote speakers; she’ll appear in conversation with Garvin and will also participate in a panel discussion on fiction writing with Garvin and the event’s other keynote: Elizabeth Wetmore, bestselling author of Valentine.
Renee Rosen, bestselling historical fiction author, will teach attendees how to revise and edit like a pro. Fiction and nonfiction writer Eric May will give a workshop titled “How to Get to Meaningful Memoir Material.” May will also participate in a panel discussion on nonfiction, along with memoirist David W. Berner and author and entrepreneur Toneal Jackson. In a separate workshop titled “Editing is Not Optional,” Jackson will explain different methods of editing and help participants determine which they need for their particular project; she’ll offer tips for how to interview and hire an editor as well.
Novelist and teacher Billy Lombardo will give a presentation titled “Dialogue: When to Speak and When to Shut Up in Your Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry,” in which he demystifies realistic versus skillful dialogue, speaker tags, and whether or not to use curse words.
Advice for first-time attendees
Recognizing the tendency of writers to be introverts, conference staff address this formally at the conference. “We have breakfasts and lunches at which people can sit together and get to know each other. We encourage people to network,” Hoffman says. “Just do it. Just get yourself there. You’ll meet other people just like you, people who are also nervous and maybe a little afraid to be there alone. You’ll make friends, and you’ll get motivated.”
Not able to afford the registration cost? Let’s Just Write! offers six scholarships. “Applicants just need to write a short essay describing their writing and why they want to attend the conference,” Hoffman explains. “Then a panel of judges evaluates the applications.”
She’s particularly looking forward to gathering with writers in person in 2022. “When I’m standing there at the conference registration desk with other board members, our goal is to make people feel welcome,” she explains. “We know almost everyone by name. We’re very personal about it. And I think people love that.”
Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference at a glance
Conference: Let’s Just Write!
Dates: March 19-20, 2022
Scholarships available: Yes
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Contact: Samantha Hoffman, executive director,
—Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart